Sunday, July 29, 2007
Saturday night Sally and I watched Young Frankenstein on our local PBS station. We've seen this movie several times since it was released in 1974. We always laugh through the whole thing. It's totally inspired silliness.
I took a picture off the screen because the monster, Peter Boyle, looks just like my boss. Stick a pair of glasses on him and he'd be a dead ringer.
Of course, Peter Boyle is much better looking.
I was led to this web picture by a coworker. The girl in the middle, the one wearing cut-offs, is one of our office secretaries. She's a cheerleader for a professional Arena Football League team, and they have an advertising arrangement with Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. Can you understand why the guys hang around her desk?
Congratulations, Dick, on the new battery for your pacemaker. C'mon over for dinner and I'll throw something in the microwave!
Ciao for now.
Like the group, "the U.E.B." in the fictional Big Love on HBO, the Kingston family, led by the late Charles W. Kingston, formed a cooperative in 1935. The Kingston Family is a very business-savvy group, having amassed a fortune estimated at $150M (lowball) to $170M (also lowball, according to some). The number of their businesses in the local area is in dispute because some of them could be hidden under other names. I know a few of them; I pass them by on my way to work.
For instance, this building, which during the week is Standard Restaurant Supply, doubles on Sunday as a church. The family wouldn't find it necessary to spend money on a chapel when they have a building like this, available on Sundays when the store is closed.This nondescript, run-down building is one of the family business' headquarters. You can see my hand with the camera in the side view mirror of my work vehicle. I took the picture before anyone showed up for work. When taking pictures of people who are so strongly paranoid, it's always best to be on the paranoid side yourself. Notice that both buildings are in bad repair. Overgrown trees, peeling paint, very shabby. To put on a fancy front isn't the Kingston way. Not when it costs money. The building is reputed to be without a telephone, which strikes you as odd until you consider that telephones cost money, and that people spend valuable work time talking on them. I also doubt any family members working there have cell phones, either.
The way the Kingston kingdom works, according to several sources, is that family members are required to work in family businesses, but aren't paid in the usual way. They are paid in credits good for all family businesses, so they can buy food, clothes, etc., with those credits. I don't understand how they pay their utilities, but I can see how the credits system keeps an oppressive measure of control on employees. It's a lot like the old company store concept in the coal mine industry, where miners spent money for groceries at exorbitant prices, paying their employers back most, if not all, of their salaries.
Another couple of stories from a few years ago showed the family's complete contempt for government, except their own. Some Kingston wives and children lived in a coal yard. The women were visited by their husbands, who had other homes. When one of the women would get pregnant she'd go to the welfare office, claiming she didn't know who the father was, and then collect welfare. This is a system the Kingstons call "Bleeding the Beast." I like that term, and I give them credit for being creative crooks when stealing from the public.
Some years ago, when Charles W. Kingston was still alive, the state came down hard and made him pay up about a half-million dollars in fraudulent welfare claims. I don't think he spent any time in jail, though.
Big Love this past week showed Bill and his polygamous cronies nervous over the arrest of a fugitive polygamous leader based on real-life Warren Jeffs. In real life this arrest did indeed bring more attention and heat on the total community, although not all polygamists are the same. They have a core belief in what they call The Principle (of polygamy), but many of them have their own sects, and some of the sects have had active warfare, not unlike Mafia families shooting it out.
There are a lot of polygamists all over the Western United States, Canada and Mexico, but many non-confederated. There are an estimated 50,000 in Utah alone, but I have no idea where that number came from. It would be impossible to count them because like cockroaches, they scurry when the light is turned on them. I don't doubt that there are a lot, though, in every community, some better disguised than others. Big Love is fiction, but like the Mafia stories of The Sopranos, it has its basis in truth.
Ciao for now.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, was a holiday in my home state of Utah. It's called Pioneer Day, 24th of July, a couple other names, too, especially among visitors to Utah who find that state liquor stores are closed on that day.
Pioneer Day commemorates the arrival of Mormon pioneers to Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Mormon leader Brigham Young, reportedly sick and lying down in his wagon, sat up and said, "This is the right place. Drive on." He was so sick I think he meant, "This is not the right place. Drive on to San Diego," but the faithful took it to mean "stop here." And they did.
The modern day LDS (Mormon) Church likes to distance itself from its past. They love stories like the arrival of pioneers, less so the stories of polygamy. They'd like all of us to forget that little part of their past, but of course no one can. They'd like us not to think of Brother Brigham as being husband to 27 wives, but we do. The HBO show, Big Love, embarrasses them because it reminds them of their past.
When the 1940 movie, Brigham Young, was made with Dean Jagger and Tyrone Power--and Vincent Price as Joseph Smith!--the LDS Church gave its approval, as long as the polygamy stuff was left out. Revisionist history is not new for any group, so the Mormons aren't the only ones who have a past they'd like to edit.
Brigham Young himself was a powerful guy, who took over for another powerful guy. The early Mormons had the charismatic Joseph Smith as prophet. Usually in this sort of religious organization, when the leader dies so goes the church, but the Mormons were lucky when Smith was killed. They had Brigham Young, equally charismatic, to take over. He and the organization thrived to the point where the Latter-day Saints are one of the fastest growing religious groups in the world.
Brigham affected different looks during his lifetime, according to fashion. You had the young, Beatles-bobbed Brigham (immediately below), the Bad-Hair Day Brigham (above), and the Bushy-Beard Brigham (below). I think those 27 wives had something to do with making sure he met the fashion standards of the day.
He looks pretty rakish in this picture, doesn't he? Strong jaw, handsome face, strong-looking body. The hair just sort of adds to the whole picture of a young guy with mucho sex mojo.
Here are some stories I bet you haven't heard:
The LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University has a prohibition against beards on men. As the old local saying goes, "Brigham Young couldn't attend the school named after him."
Some years ago there was a local telethon with imported talent, Gary "Radar" Burghof, who was in the TV series M*A*S*H. Gary must've had a couple of belts while off-camera because when he accepted a donation check on air from Brigham Young University he said, "Oh, that reminds me of the old joke: Brigham Young said, 'I don't care how you bring 'em, just bring 'em young.'" The man handing over the check reared back. The expression on his face was of someone who just smelled a fart. The words out of his mouth were, "Yessssssss, well…" and then his voice trailed off into embarrassed silence. Radar apparently wasn't using his political correctness radar that day.
Here's a Brigham Young story that is as old as Brigham Young. My dad told me this joke when I was a kid and I didn't forget it, because at the time I didn't get it! Brigham Young is walking down the street in Salt Lake City and encounters a young African-American boy. Brother Brigham says, "My, you're a handsome young man! A fine-looking boy! Whose boy are you?"
The young black boy looks at him and says, "I'm Brigham Young's boy!"
Ciao for now.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Yesterday I went to the new Lowe's story by my house. It's right next to the new Wal-Mart, which is next to the new condo housing development going up. It's been a busy summer for construction near my house. I spotted one of my neighbors, who now works at Wal-Mart, outside the store, taking a break.
I've never know this young man's name, even though I've lived up the street from him and his family for a couple of decades. What I know is that he and his twin brother are what would be called mentally-challenged, special education students when they were in school. They are in their thirties now; one of the twins works, but the other one doesn't. I assume the working twin is higher level than the other.
What I know about the family is that they all seem somewhat challenged, and they have an addiction to Coca-Cola products. I saw the Wal-Mart employee twin drinking a 20-oz bottle of Diet Coke. His stomach protrudes with what I'd call a Cokebelly. When I drive by their house and their recycling can is out for pickup, I notice it is bulging out of the top with plastic Coke bottles of all sizes. Sometimes I see the more low-level twin walking home from the dollar store in the other direction, laden with a plastic grocery sack full of Coke products. These folks just really love Coke.Occasionally I buy a soft drink, but no one at Coke, Pepsi, or any other soft drink company is getting rich off me. What I see around me are a lot of people who are overweight, with big mugs of soft drinks in their hands. A couple of coworkers of mine might toss down the equivalent of a six-pack of Coke a day. They not only have Cokebellies, but a lot of other body fat to go along with it. I believe these drinks are helping make people in America into the most grotesquely fat people in the world. You don't have to be mentally challenged to drink Coke, but people are mentally challenged if they drink it all day and wonder why they can't lose weight.
Bill's courtship isn't that surprising. Thirty years ago I worked with a young secretary who was in love with her dream man, only to find out after she'd gotten engaged if she married him she'd be sister-wife number three. No guy who wants to make a woman interested comes on to her with, "Hi, I'm Bill…I'm a polygamist. How'd you like to be my number four?" They've got to be careful. They hunt like tigers, sneaking up on their prey, then pouncing when the time is right.
In real life polygamy comes in all forms, from the most religious to a more casual relationship between the extended family. Big Love is interesting because it mixes the two. Bill's relationships with his wives would be definitely considered casual, because he's not a stern, religious figure whose word is absolute law. In some communities in Utah and wherever Mormon fundamentalist sects live, like the Juniper Creek community shown in Big Love, Bill would be considered weak. His wives and children would be supposed to do what he wanted them to do, 24/7. If they didn't a spiritual leader might take his wives from him and assign them to another husband. In the Fundamentalist Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints, whose leader, Warren Jeffs, is now awaiting trial, he'd definitely lose his family. His son would have been banished from the home, left to fend for himself. His sexual activities would come out and he'd be sent packing. That would also remove him as a rival for young women with the older brethren of the sect.
Bill's oldest daughter, Sarah, who appears to be about 18, would have been married to a "worthy" man when she was about 16. She might have even been married to Bill's brother. That happened with the Kingston polygamous family. The teenage daughter of the leader of the sect ran away when she was supposed to marry her uncle. Her father caught up to her and beat her within an inch of her life. She went to the authorities and her father went to jail. Needless to say, she didn’t marry her uncle.
It's all sad and sordid, but I'm sure for every child beater and unbearable iron-fisted patriarch there are husbands more like Bill Henrickson, but there are still things about the show that just don't ring true, like I mentioned above. Of all the things that bugged me about this episode the coffee cups are among the worst. Mormons, fundamentalist or mainstream, just don't drink coffee. If they do, it's not in public. Of course, as one funny guy I know asked once, "How come there are so many Starbucks stores in Utah? No one here is allowed to drink coffee!" Haha. Funny man. But, he'd be right about 50% or so of the population who are supposed to be Mormons of one degree or another.
I found these pictures online. The two Jenny Craig dropouts are what I would define as Big Love!
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Clay was someone I met because of his work with young cartoonists. He published a series of mini-comix and a newsletter called Comix World (later Comix Wave), which covered the vibrant scene of underground comic books.Geerdes' newsletter was a hodge podge of styles, type and illustrations. Different cartoonists did his logos, and sometimes used him as the subject. Click on the pictures for full-size images.
Clay was right there from the beginning of that movement in the late 1960s, as a freelance journalist, writing about the hippie culture from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. He wasn't from California, but was a transplanted Midwesterner. He left his home in Nebraska when he was of age and went into the Navy for four years. When he came out he stayed in California where he completed his education, becoming for a time in the 1960s a college English professor. The worlds of academe and Clay Geerdes just didn't get along. He left education, became a freelance journalist, writing whole underground newspapers, including the satirical San Francisco Ball. If there was a mover-and-shaker in the world of the underground press at the time Clay probably knew him. He took pictures of many of the counterculture celebrities of the day, and many of those photos* are still around, being used in movies and books about the era.
In the early 1970s Geerdes began to focus solely on the underground comix, because of the talent level coming out of those books. R. Crumb. Spain. Clay Wilson. The list goes on and on. A blog devoted to his photos of cartoonists is available here. Clay found out early that underground publishing, like mainstream publishing, was closed to outsiders. Anyone, even someone with talent who wasn't part of the inner circle, could expect their submitted artwork to become a coaster for coffee cups, mislaid or lost. Geerdes felt that encouraging and publishing young cartoonists was a way for them to grow and develop.
I contacted him in 1979 and sent him some of my drawings. By return mail I got a clipped funny news article and a demand to "do a cartoon of this." I went ahead and did it, and looking back on it now I can see it wasn't very good. But I got better. He made cartoonists get better over time because he was demanding and wanted them to draw constantly. He wasn't a harsh taskmaster, but he knew potential and asked something of his contributors.
The mini-comix were a mixed bag of good and sometimes very bad cartoons. The best of the artists did their job to make them hilarious.
Besides a love of cartooning, Clay and I had something else in common: heads made of solid granite. When we made up our minds it was difficult to get us to see the other person's point of view. I hope I've mellowed, but Clay never did. One time we had a screaming fight that chilled our friendship for a few years, and even when our relationship was renewed there was a remote side, an iciness to Geerdes I hadn't seen before. I had betrayed him, and could never be wholly trusted again. OK, I accepted that. But when he was close to death, he wrote and requested a present. He wanted a copy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "Shenandoah." I was floored. The great counterculture chronicler wanted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? What it showed was Geerdes' soft side. He had one. Like a lot of guys of his generation he just didn't like to show it.
The picture at the head of this article, taken in 1982 when Clay was 47, was by his friend Clara Felix. Clara is now also deceased. She was also a presence, one of the few people who really understood that under Clay's irascibility and curmudgeonly exterior there beat a soft heart.
For some reason Clay Geerdes is being forgotten for the work he did in his chosen field. Others who have written about the artists and early years of the underground comix have written Geerdes out, all the while using his information and sometimes his photos (illegally). Geerdes longed for recognition and for his contributions to be recognized. He was deeply hurt when it wasn't forthcoming or when he felt dismissed. Underground comix history isn't a big field, and the names of the experts can be ticked off on the fingers of one hand. Unfortunately, Clay's might be the middle finger that got cut off because it was sticking up at his enemies.
A page of one of Geerdes' newsletters that shows him in happier days, circa 1976. He's the one with the mariner's beard, sitting next to animator Bob Clampett. The bearded man on the bottom, George DiCaprio, was an underground cartoonist and father of movie star, Leonardo.
Of all of the people I've known, Clay was really the only one who did things his way, Frank Sinatra notwithstanding. Geerdes was not cut out for a 9-to-5 job, so contented himself in later years with a doorman job in a folk music nightclub near his home in Berkeley, California. It was enough to keep body and soul together. He never cared about the American dream of having a driveway full of cars and a boat, or a house full of expensive things he didn't really need. As long as his needs were met he seemed to be all right. I believe Clay knew he could not answer to anyone, no matter what it cost him. It was because of that independence that he had no medical insurance. It killed him. He ignored symptoms and by the time he saw a doctor it was too late.
Clay Geerdes was a lot of things, but the main thing he was to me is unforgettable. That is why I remember him on this day, 10 years to the day since he died.
*Geerdes' photos are still under copyright, administered by his former neighbor and best friend, David Miller. Use of Clay's photos can be arranged by contacting Dave at DMiller611@aol.com.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
On July 4, 1967, I got dressed for a guard mount. One of my roommates, Brewster, hollered, "I'm taking a picture for your folks." Brewster was an amateur (as you can see by the photo, very amateur) photographer, who wanted to use up a roll of film so he could develop it in the darkroom at the enlisted man's club. I stuck my cigarette behind my back--no use Mom and Dad seeing that I'd taken up the filthy habit--and forced a grin.
A few days ago I remembered I had this picture and searched it out from amongst my old photos. It freezes a moment in time for me: I had been in Germany for two months; I was four days short of 20-years-old; I had a year-and-a-half left in the Army, and Dad had exactly six months left to live.
Photos can be like that, which is obviously why we want to keep them. They take time and put it onto a small piece of paper. A moment of how someone was, maybe a long, long time ago.
The picture may be grainy and Brewster's photo developing may be poor, but in this picture I see a lot of history. Not just a PFC standing by his bunk, dressed in his starched fatigues, but the guy I was exactly 40 years ago today.
Ciao for now.
This is Sally's and my posterity. David, his wife, Loan, who became a U.S. citizen in May, and their two girls, Isabella and Gabriela.Bella, which means "beautiful" in Italian, is already matching up to her name, even at the tender age of 2 1/2 years. To Bella I am "Bompaw." Gabby is a smiling, happy baby who will also be a beauty.
See? I have every right to brag.
Ciao for now.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
"Dear Postino, I have followed your postings of the past week with a great deal of interest. You say that all who see UFOs and so-called 'flying saucers' are suffering from a need for attention or a psychosis. [Not true. I said people who claim to have been abducted by aliens to be suffering from a need for attention or a psychosis.]
'So-called 'flying saucers' are real, and they are produced right here in the United States, in a secret laboratory. I should know. My grandfather has made them since 1947. Here's his picture. I hope this will set the record straight and that you won't be condemning all those who have made legitimate sightings of 'flying saucers.'" Sincerely, One Who Knows
OK, One Who Knows…here's the picture you sent me, so now we all know the secret origin of the flying saucers.
Ciao for now.
In my time doing research on the UFO phenomenon I have found that most authors of these books don't really try to reach the non-believers, because they know those folks can't be convinced by their brand of evidence. They go after the folks who already believe, or who can be persuaded by accepting the author's word for it. Jim Marrs established his bona fides in those two sentences in the introduction to his book. He's a believer. It helps to know he also wrote the book Crossfire, which was the basis for Oliver Stone's movie fantasy, JFK.
Ah, conspiracy theorists and paranoids. My life would be so empty without them.
This will be my last column on flying saucers/UFOs, at least for a while. (What? Am I hearing a big sigh of relief from you?) Anyway, I have dug out some more book covers.
Jenny Randles is a prolific writer on the subject of UFOs. I especially enjoy these two covers. The first, UFOs and How To See Them has a saucer shaped object on the dust jacket which is really a lenticular cloud. I suppose if you don't know it's a cloud you could technically call it an unidentified flying object.
The second book, World's Best "True" UFO Stories is made interesting by the quotes around the word "true." Are they actually true true stories, or are they quote-true-unquote stories? Apparently the latter.
And there is some sleight-of-hand in the title of this exploitation video: UFO Phenomenon: The Mystery Revealed. OK, so there's a mystery. So that needs to be revealed? Do you think the unwary might approach this video thinking it will give out any real answers to said mystery?Finally, and God bless American ingenuity. Someone had a far-out idea based on the designs of flying saucers he'd seen splattered all over the newspaper and magazine racks for a couple of years. The cover of Science and Mechanics from December, 1950 uses a technique of promising something that in real life will never be delivered. How many of these flying saucer buses have you seen buzzing over the streets of your city? And if streets were congested in 1950 how about now that we have over twice the population? We need these flying saucer buses now!Ciao for now. Watch the skies, but don't believe everything you see in them.